Despatch No 3 from Rosanne in the NWFP, Pakistan

There is no internet connection today and variable electricity so I will write fast and hope to post later. We have returned from Karachi via the Tez Gam (fast train) which does not live up to its name at all as it is very tired and 'ahister' (slow), and is from a former glorious age. There was a lot of waiting on side tracks for faster trains to pass us but it was only four hours late. We were told it could have been worse. We paid for a first class AC sleeper, so that we could see Pakistan from north to south. Once, the conductor moved us into an empty 2 person berth 'just in case any other peoples come in'. On our return trip a young business man was booked into our berth but being a good Muslim he was shocked to be booked into a berth where there was 'already a lady present'. I don't know how he did it but he managed to find another berth, 'so that your privacy will not be disturbed'. This was directed at Gary, and out of respect the man didn't look at me. One morning I woke at 6am with two strange men in our berth talking loudly. My husband had stepped out for a minute to check where we were. The men apologised profusely when Gary returned and they realised someone's wife was asleep in the berth they had sat in. In shalwar qameez my husband looks a lot like a Pukhtoon, and possibly a tribal Pukhtoon would not have asked questions first as my husband did.  

Relief amongst the Kala Dhaka people in Karachi
Karachi has 15 million people and 2 million of these are Pukhtoons from the mountains, trying to find work. We were taken to one of the poorer areas where a man named Abdul Waheed is working and living with his family. Abdul Waheed is a larger than life person, trained as a teacher, and the nephew of the ruler of Kala Dhaka, a Pukhtoon tribal area. We admired his enthusiasm for his people and his selfless lifestyle in order to help them. His vision is to educate the children, for, as he said, in the children are the hope of peace in the future. 'I want children to know that there is not only one way to live in the world.' He also said the current figures on literacy are over stated – rather than the current 44% he suggests it is closer to 17%. In tribal areas there is little literacy and he hopes to train teachers to return to educate children in tribal areas also.

So far Abdul Waheed has been instrumental in changing 300 madrassahs (religious schools) into normal schools, affecting the lives of 10,000 children. By 2010 he hopes this number grows to 50,000 children being educated. The change is accomplished by first speaking with the maulvi (religious teacher) of a madrassah and gaining his support, then by training the teachers, and talking with the parents. Changing these schools into normal schools means introducing Maths, English, Urdu and Computing, and turning them into day schools rather than boarding schools. (It is believed that children in some religious boarding schools are the victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and slavery).

There are partners to help in this work including UNICEF, ASHOKA , World Vision and Bright Educational Society (BES). I visited Abdul Waheed's school set up with the help of BES and the Karachi Rotary Club, called Naunehal Academy. Students from poorer homes, Muslim and Christian, and many from Kala Dhaka, attend. Fees are R150 (A$3.30 per month). I spoke to the Year 10 English class about one of my books, Mustara. Because it was Ramazan, lesson periods were shorter. School started at 7.30am and finished early at 11am (many of the students would have woken at 3.30am to eat breakfast and were tired by 11am). Then a second shift came at 11am. The school had a small library of books donated by schools in the West. Students received free books and some received free uniforms also. There is a health and immunization program, a program to help women start small businesses, as well as relief given to widows each month. Some try to get the relief whether they are widows or not. One woman said, 'I am a widow and my husband is too.'

We enjoyed traditional Pukhtoon hospitality to the extent of being treated to Kabuli pilau and shikh kebabs in an Afghan restaurant. We slept in the mejaliss (men's visiting room) with an adjoining toilet, as the house was styled on Pukhtoon segregation; my husband never entered the main house or courtyard to meet the women who lived in Abdul Waheed's father's house – his wife, his unmarried sisters, all his brother's wives, and his mother whom he adores. Any women out on the streets in this Pukhtoon area of Karachi covered their faces just as women do in Peshawar. Only in Islamabad, the capital, have I seen this custom relaxed where women wear the scarf around their necks instead of their faces.

Abdul Waheed is asking the government to go to the tribal areas with relief help. 'All areas should be helped,' he said. His plea to the West? 'Please help the tribal area of Kala Dhaka – the children are not terrorists.'

The Kala Dhaka children in the mountains thank the Australian children who sent toys to them earlier in the year.

Look up  www.ashoka.org to see more information about this important work of changing attitudes and fostering peace by educating children.

See more information on Bright Educational Society to be able to be a partner in this work at info@brighteducation.org or waheedbes@yahoo.co.uk

Remembering the earthquake
October the 8th was an emotive time here when many remembered the earthquake of a year ago and its victims. Many are still affected and there were articles in the local paper about incompetency by the government in distributing relief and also anger at the government's articles advertising how much they had done to help. There was little mention of the help that poured in from other countries (and still is). The truth is, Muzaffarabad in Kashmir still has people in tents – the debris of their fallen houses have not all been cleared away so they can rebuild, and there are people still lining up for food, continuously reminding them of their misfortune. Getting the relief to the right people seems to be the difficult job at hand.

There was a poignant drama on TV acted by children, and also stories of heroism and loss in the paper. One story told the tale of Mahnoor, a young teacher in Gari Habib Ullah, close to Kashmir, who was crushed under rubble but stayed alive long enough to keep the children in her class comforted. When the army arrived they were able to save 19 of the 25 students but not the teacher. Parents opted to bury the children in the backyard of the school and Mahnoor is buried there also. Thousands of school children died that day.


From the Papers:
Musharraf's book 'In the Line of Fire' is 'selling like hotcakes' in Peshawar. There are many articles in the local paper challenging its truth. One writer suggested that someone currently in office who could write about subjects up to now kept under wraps must be confident of his position.

The Women's Bill which disappeared from the papers for so long that I wondered if it had been squashed, will now be passed after Ramazan, it is promised. The women's bill is to protect the rights of women in the cases of inheritance, rape, physical assault, domestic violence, the giving of a daughter to stop a feud or pay a debt, and to stop customs like honour killings and marriage to the Quran. This later custom happens when a woman has no male relative and, so that land will not pass out of the family, she is married to the Quran so that no one else can marry her. In this culture it means she has an unfulfilled and unhappy life.

Foreign tourists (from The International News, Islamabad 5 Oct 06)
'It feels good to see foreign tourists back. So many years ago they came…It seems that despite the international propaganda against Pakistan as being an unsafe tourist destination some of them are picking up courage and are out to test those threats! We sincerely hope that they would have a warm, most enjoyable stay here without facing any kind of intimidation or threat from us…Others may be encouraged to follow.'


Jamrud: Unknown people gunned down a tribesman at remote Tirah Valley and made their escape good, officials said. It is thought to be part of a family feud.

Pakistani born Namina Salim is one of the 100 space travellers chosen to be on the Virgin Galactic flight when commercial operations commence in 2008/9.

From 'The Nation', page 1
'Children's Classic: Peter Pan sequel hits bookshelves, see page 20.'
A new children's book advertised on the front page of a major paper! Would we see that in Australia?

A short review
'In the City by the Sea' by Kamila Shamsie

This is a modern adult story of Pakistan, set in Karachi, and told through the point of view of 11 year old Hasan. One morning he sees a boy fall to his death; not long afterwards his favourite uncle is arrested and charged with treason. The prose is lyrical and picturesque, and the character of Hasan is drawn with poignancy and beauty. I'm looking forward to reading Shamie's other novels. Shamsie received The Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. In 2001 she was selected as one of Orange's '21 writers for the 21st century'.


PS: I found Margaret Clark's book on how to write for children printed for the subcontinent in a bookstore in Islamabad.

Respect for the right of another to be wrong does not mean that the wrong is right.   Ravi Zacharias